Minority Question: Is Heptulla Right or is Antony? – Published in India Today

AK Antony of the Congress and Najma Heptulla of the BJP, and the current Minister for Minority Affairs, have both made statements in the last one month about minorities, mainly inferring to Muslims.

Heptulla said, “Muslims are many to be called minority, it’s Parsis, who need special attention”, adding “I am not in favour of reservation. I have come this far without reservation.” Antony had said that the “Congress policy is equal justice to everyone” and that is why a doubt is created (among voters) by the party’s incline towards the minority community. Both of them are seasoned politicians, but in my view, they are wrong in their assertions at least in this regard.

Heptulla has herself made mention of her lineage on many occasions, that she comes from the family of Maulana Azad, the strongest Muslim leader in Congress at the time of Independence. How far this lineage contributed in her “coming this far”-both during her long stint in Congress and then in BJP-is a matter of analysis.

Secondly on Parsis, it is well known that people from the community have excelled and adorned top positions in almost all spheres of life. On the economic front, the community serves as the avant-garde of India’s financial sector. But personally, I am not against any special attention to Parsis as well.

With reference to her statement that “Muslims are too many to be minorities”, I’d like to put forward a more legal definition of the term ‘minority’. An 11-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had said in 2002 that ‘minority’, either political, religious or linguistic, would mean a “non-dominant group” and it is a relative term referred to represent the smaller of two sections. In social science, ‘minority’ is used to refer to people who hold comparatively fewer positions in social power. It cannot be understood in numerical sense as it has connotation that in majoritarian democratic system, the comparatively smaller group may require some safeguards.

If one goes back to recent history, the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 stipulated “cession of Sovereignty to Indian people on the basis of Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly would be conditional on adequate provisions being made for protection of minorities which were Muslims and Sikhs”. While framing the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly, in its first draft, had made a provision for political safeguard for the Muslims and Sikhs minorities to ensure adequate representation in elected bodies and public employment. It was dropped by the dominant group in the Assembly since the Muslim and Sikh groups could not take a united stand in support of the safeguards. However, the same safeguards were propounded and retained in the Constitution but confined to the other groups being SCs and STs, which is still available.

The safeguards are measures to balance and adjust all communities in a system of democracy, where majority has the right to govern, but the minority has the right to be represented. When the right to be represented is not safeguarded, then the concerns of the underrepresented group cannot be ignored.  In the last 64 years of democratic process, the representation of Muslims in elected bodies has remained much less in proportion to their population.

The representation in the Lok Sabha has been declining and presently total representation of the community is 23 in the 16th Lok Sabha as against 70, which 13 per cent population of Muslims in the country should ideally have.

Probably that was the apprehension due to which first Constituent Assembly report of 1947 had adopted political safeguards for minorities. However, the said proposition could not proceed further because it was understood by a majority of the members that the political safeguards of the minorities would lead to continuous tussle and shall seriously affect the integrity and unity of the nation. The entire speech of Constituent Assembly took a turn towards national unity, secularism, democracy, equality and justice instead of the political safeguards for minorities. The secularism, equality and justice were then taken as the safeguards to the minorities like any other citizen in the country. Hence, the minority was treated as the organic whole being part of the nation.

It is that issue of equality and justice which Antony has raised to project his party having proximity with minority communities. Ensuring justice and equality has nothing to do with favour being extended to minority community. It is a matter of constitutional obligation to any representative or the government.

The Congress has ruled for a substantial period in the States and the Centre since Independence. If one has to look at the stand of the Congress in providing equality and justice to minority community, they have failed on that front too. Even today, if we have a look at the incidents of communal violence, which took place while his party was ruling, the government’s record in terms of ensuring equality and justice has remained highly doubtful. His party has not taken adequate steps to create confidence in the minority community. The prejudices against the minority community has not been able to be addressed by his party on the issue like admissions in schools, taking houses on rent or allocating public funds for development purposes, etc.

If his party took steps towards equal treatment, then the condition of Muslims around the country would not have been as it has been reflected in the Sachar Committee report where the plight of Muslims was described as worse than the SCs. The Sachar panel report is a true reflection of the ground reality. The so-called stand of the Congress for equal justice has either not worked or it is an incorrect claim. The basic issue of equal treatment has certainly been confused with the issue of religious freedom.

This article was published in the online edition of India Today on 8th July, 2014

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